Tag Archives: Book Review

“The Voyage Out” [A Review]

Virginia Woolf Smiling? Surely not…

Miss Virginia Woolf (Image by spratmackrel via Flickr)

If there’s one thing I love it’s a bitter cup of hot Earl Grey tea. And also Virginia Woolf.

My love for Virginia Woolf has grown to the point where I can honestly say that even my least favorite work of hers that I’ve read (Jacob’s Room, in case you were wondering) is on my top 100 Books Ever List. I’ll be the first to admit that this love runs the risk of making me a terrible reviewer of anything Miss Woolf wrote. I will try, however, to give a level-headed and concise reflection on this novel.

First, let me just say: GAAAAHHHH!!!! THIS BOOK IS SO FUCKING AMAZING!!!!! I WANT TO MAKE LOVE TO IT AND MARRY IT AND GO TO A NURSING HOME WITH IT AND BE THERE FOR IT AS IT DIES AND THEN KILL MYSELF BECAUSE I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!!!!!

Now that that’s out of the way, let me say this:

The novel begins with Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose, a nice couple who set sail with a small collection of family and friends from London, but the cast of characters quickly opens up as their boat arrives in a resort town in South America. The closest that this novel comes to having a main character is Rachel, the niece of Mrs. Ambrose. A young woman who has been brought up in the strict society life of her widower father she follows her aunt and uncle to South America. Her journey introduces her to new worlds, particularly the more liberal world of her aunt. This of course runs the risk of being the physical journey that is a perfect symbol for the character’s emotional, a trope that is often quite stale, but Miss Woolf’s deft use of language and her insight into various types of personalities makes this feel fresh and sprightly. Far from feeling like yet another self-discovery story The Voyage Out feels electric, a characteristic that I find common in Miss Woolf’s writing.

I had several highlights in this book. One of which was the use of Mr. and Mrs. Dalloway. I had fallen in love with this couple in Mrs. Dalloway and it was a treat to see them again, particularly to see them through Rachel’s biting eyes. The Voyage Out introduced me to another couple to fall in love with. Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are young, intellectual male friends staying with each other in the hotel near the house rented by the Ambroses. As a person who likes to project LGBTQ* diversity into every nook and cranny of his life Mr. Hirst and Mr. Hewet are nearly as great a treat as Holmes and Watson are. While Mr. Hewet does indicate his heterosexuality throughout the book (or, as I like to think of it, his bi- or pansexuality) Mr. Hirst definitely read as homosexual to me (or possibly asexual…) I also took delight in trying to decide how much of herself Miss Woolf put into the character of Mrs. Ambrose (the book’s Wikipedia article does say that Mrs. Ambrose is more likely based on Miss Woolf’s sister but I can’t let that ruin my fun).

In The Voyage Out we are given a unique and engaging coming of age story that has Miss Woolf’s characteristic style while still being accessible to new Woolf readers. It also gives us this wonderful quote from Mrs. Dalloway (Chapter 4):

How much rather one would be a murderer than a bore!

5/5 stars.

The Voyage Out. Virginia Woolf. 1915.

2 Comments

Filed under The Bookshelf

“Unfamiliar Fishes” [A Review]

”]New book

My first brush with Sarah Vowell occurred on This American Life where she is a somewhat frequent commentator. When I first heard her I thought she was amusing, well spoken and quite intelligent. The first book of her’s that I read, Assignation Vacation, reinforced my opinions of her (only change well spoken to kick ass writer) and reading The Wordy Shipmates really reinforced this. Unfamiliar Fishes has only really, really reinforced this.

Unfamiliar Fishes will be Ms. Vowell’s third history book (her other three were about her own life) when it’s published on March 11th. It’s story is one that I think is far too often brushed over: The story of how Hawaii lost its independence and was brought into the U.S. of A. My advanced reader’s copy is only 233 pages but it manages to convey a good hundred years worth of history with ease, starting with arrival of Captain Cook, the social changes that his arrival brought, the arrival of New England based missionaries, the social changes they brought, then the various meddlings of the American business interests (side note: sometimes I have trouble eating Dole bananas) and finally Hawaii’s annexation into America.

Weaving in her own history with the history of her subject is something that I’ve come to think of as a trademark of Ms. Vowell and she repeats this once again, and once again I find that it makes her writing all the more engaging.

Think of that really awesome teacher who’ve had. The really awesome teacher who managed to take History/Chemistry/Shop and turn it into a fascinating class where you didn’t even realize you were learning. The one who’s lectures were hard to stop paying attention to because you found yourself strangely committed to. That’s how I think of Ms. Vowell’s writing. She never becomes more complex then the situation requires, something that I think makes her easily accessed by most. And unlike some non-fiction writers who seem to view themselves as mini-gods with perfect facts Ms. Vowell acknowledges her own opinions and that sometimes the observer effects the results (or so I feel.)

Unfamiliar Fishes is another well written and highly informative text from Sarah Vowell and since she’s still young I think we can hope for plenty more to come.

4.5 stars out of 5.

1 Comment

Filed under The Bookshelf